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Ask the Question

by Berry Friesen (May 25, 2016)

On Monday, I underwent a diagnostic procedure at the local hospital.  My nurse was a cheerful woman named Bao.

The name elicited faint memories of another time in my life and I asked the nurse to tell me its derivation.  “Bao is a Hmong name,” she said.  I instantly recalled the full memory of my work as an attorney for Hmong refugees in St. Paul, Minnesota during the ‘80s.  As it happens, Bao was born in St. Paul, the daughter of refugee parents, and had grown up within blocks of the place where I practiced law.  She may have benefited from the class action lawsuit I helped litigate.

We exchanged a bit more personal information; I mentioned my daughter and her family living in London.  Soon we were chatting about air travel and Bao noted her concern about safety.  “How can planes just disappear?” she asked; “it makes me nervous.”

I know the feeling.  Today, my London-based daughter and her family are in the air over the Atlantic.  Sure, air travel is the safest form of transportation, but weird stuff has been happening of late.   In addition to a Malaysian flight that disappeared over the South China Sea, there was the German flight that made a controlled flight into a mountain, the Russian flight blown out of the sky over the Sinai and the AirEgypt flight that disappeared last week over the Mediterranean.

Why does this fleeting conversation stick in my mind?  Because between the lines, Bao expressed an often unarticulated anxiety:  something important has changed, something dangerous has slipped its mooring.

Readers of this blog know that for me, that “something” has a name:  the US-led empire.  It is the entity I think of first when I hear of an inexplicable air disaster, or when I hear of a car bomb killing scores of people in Syria or Iraq.

This response sets me apart from people who are offended by the slightest suggestion of US government engagement in terrorism.  And it likely drives some readers away.  But others readers—perhaps like Bao—are trying to understand inexplicable shifts in the way the world works.  This blog is for those readers.

So ask the question:  does the US government engage in terrorist activity? We can look at history and we can look at current events.

The bombing of Nagasaki—the second bomb dropped on Japanese civilians—would be one place to start.  Next, we could consider the saturation bombing of civilians in Korea or Vietnam, or the war of aggression the US mounted against Iraq in 2003.  We could acquaint ourselves with the many civilians killed by US drone strikes.

We could consider the US alliance with al-Qaeda in Syria, in Libya and in Yemen, how the US supports al-Qaeda with training, weapons, intelligence and logistics.  We could consider how the US pretended to make war on Da’esh in Iraq and Syria while at the same time approving arrangements through Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to strengthen Da’esh through resupply, rearmament, recruitment and financing. 

We could consider the village massacres (May 12) and bombings (May 23) carried out in Syria by Ahrar al-Sham, a terrorist group the US protects from Russian attack because they are “moderates.” 

In short, history contains many instances of US government terrorism, so we know US leaders are fully capable of such evil. 

What about opportunity? 

In the US-led empire, we have an entity that maintains 24/7 surveillance of every square foot of Earth.  It has access to nearly every digital signal conveyed by people everywhere.  It has achieved full spectrum dominance, meaning it can disrupt any normal communication channels, hijack planes and cars electronically, and deploy well-armed criminals and thugs anywhere on Earth to do its bidding. 

Eventually, courageous people are compelled to take the question of US government terrorism seriously. 

What’s next for those who do? 

Well, Donald Trump won’t fix it for us, no matter how bold and rebellious he may be.  No politician in Washington can reverse the ways and means of the empire.  Neither will our citizen activism do it.

Our only hope is the patient living of another way in communities of resistance where we acquire the comrades, skills and faith to persevere through the ordeal of an empire gone to seed.  For me, that community of resistance has always been a part of the church; that is why If Not Empire, What? is important to me.  For others, it is not a part of the church, but some other community with an anti-imperial ethos.

For all of us who take on the mantle of resistance, this will be a multi-generational struggle.  Yet let us not be discouraged or afraid:  one of the gods—YHWH of the Hebrews—is on our side.